Day 1. Out of ideas and desperate in the monthly Journal editorial meeting, I begin to babble.
“Interior decorating? I don’t know anything about decorating. But ... you know how houses look when they’re for sale? With all the generic but nice furniture and vases and stuff? I like that.” From somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain, I drag out a word. “Staged. Staged homes — I like how they look. I wish my house was decorated like that.”
My rambling has inspired my editor. I will use home staging as a decorating technique, rearrange a few rooms in my house and write all about it.
I feel rather smug as I return to my desk. What a clever, nay, brilliant idea I’ve pulled out of thin air! I sit. I realize I have no idea what home staging actually is.
Home staging is the act of preparing a private residence for sale in the real estate marketplace. The goal of staging is to make a home appealing to the highest number of potential buyers, thereby selling a property more swiftly and for more money.
Thank you, Wikipedia. But this doesn’t help me.
I am subpar when it comes to interior design. My house is a conglomeration of my ultra-cheap college appliances, my husband’s battered apartment furniture and my daughter’s day-glo toys, highlighted by random knickknacks (usually, inexplicably, made of brass) and about 5,000 books of varying quality (from ye olde wizard fiction to Shakespeare).
Clearly I need help. I need an expert. The computer informs me that the word “Stage” is a Federally Registered Trademark of StagedHomes.com
I discover the holder of the Federally Registered Trademark: one Barb Schwarz, a professional home stager for 38 years. She’s been on “20/20” twice, as well as ABC, CNN, PBS and many other three-letter TV networks.
I also discover that I’m not as clever, nay brilliant, as I thought. Barb has already come up with the idea of staging a home as a decorating technique; Staging To Live® litters StagedHomes.com
I call Barb.
“Staging is not decorating. There’s a huge difference,” she explains. “It’s setting a scene. We don’t personalize the space. Staging is merchandizing and marketing a space; depersonalizing a space. … You want to set the stage to appeal to the most buyers.”
That means stripping away all family photos, idiosyncratic pillows and inexplicable brass knickknacks; then investing the space with soothing generality via universally appealing fabric accents and objets d’art.
Barb recounts how she invented staging in 1972 in the Lake Hills neighborhood of Bellevue, when she used a theatrical analogy to convince a home seller to spruce up their vacant property with a few furnishings and decorative touches.
In 2001, Barb launched and trademarked her “Staging To Live” concept right here in Seattle.
“Through the years, one of the paradigm shifts that’s been happening is, we’ve become very nest-like,” she tells me. In a tough economy, a lot of people don’t want to alter the “safe space” they’ve constructed out of familiar furnishings and bric-a-brac.
“When they see that we use their own stuff and we’re not expensive, they think about having us stage their home to live in,” she says. “Instead of 30 family photos, put out three and rotate them. You’ll appreciate your things more. It won’t be so much of a backdrop.”
She herself lives in a staged home, she informs me. I am becoming convinced that I can do this.
I can’t do this.
Barb has sent me three books, including one she wrote with Mary Seehafer Sears: Home Staging: The Winning Way to Sell Your House for More Money.
I leaf to page 111 and read, “When you’re Staging to Live, here are a few questions to ask yourself weekly, or even daily: Is there anything in this room that can be removed now or moved to another place in the house? … Moving just one thing can change everything, and everything is interdependent.”
The words make about as much sense to me as those my would-be CPA husband reads aloud from his weighty accounting textbooks, which constitute a subclass of knickknack in our poorly decorated home. I am no designer, which is exactly why I proposed this article, which is exactly why I can’t pull this article off by myself.
I need professional help.
Through Barb’s Web site, I discover the International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSP), which has chapters around the country. I e-mail the president of the Seattle chapter, Patty Bonnell of Set The Stage, then examine photos of her work on www.SetTheStageWA.com
Ah, the blandly appealing rooms filled with the neutral couches, bright pillows and inoffensive art that I covet! I call her up and she eagerly offers to stage a couple rooms in my house. I didn’t even have to hint.
At Patty’s request, I bring photos of the decorating disaster I call home to a lunch meeting at the murky, not at all blandly appealing Macaroni Grill in Northgate.
“If you’re going to stage to live, you can rotate your possessions without sacrificing them,” she assures me. “Most people have furniture that’s too big for their rooms, a TV that’s too big for the room. But most people have hidden treasures that just take the proper eye to bring them to light.”
She explains what will happen: First, she will do a walk-through of my house and offer professional advice. Then she will stage two rooms, putting me to work as her assistant. Usually the homeowners aren’t allowed to be present during a staging, she explains.
“No one likes to have a stranger come in and criticize their home,” she warns me.
I assure her that I’ll be fine. I embrace my inferiority when it comes to decorating.
She adds that it’s important for the homeowners to feel she is on their side.
Sure, I nod. I trust her: She has staged 86 properties worth $54 million, after all.
It’s best if both spouses are present for total buy-in, she clarifies.
I think of the would-be CPA and his mountains of textbooks. His piles of paperbacks sporting snarling dragons under attack by grim-visaged guys wielding enchanted swords. His enormous faux Chinese fan on the family room wall.
He will be at work during the staging, I inform her.
Staging day. I am filled with journalistic integrity. I will leave the house exactly as my family and I live in it: cluttered, randomly arranged, poorly appointed. I feel very ethical.
I become nervous about letting all of King and Snohomish counties see the disorder — okay, the out-and-out mess — in which I dwell.
I vacuum. That’s all I will do. I have integrity.
I wipe the counters. I sweep, I mop, I dust. I am reaching for my husband’s textbooks — but, no. I am filled with journalistic integrity.
I leave the books, the unfolded laundry, the scattered toys in their usual haphazard piles.
Patty shows up and, maneuvering around my 3-year-old, we stage two rooms: the master bedroom and the family room.
First the bedroom: We remove the loud quilt and replace it with a plain bedspread. We add pillows from the family room. Out goes the blood-red throw rug, the stacks of laundry, the piles of books on the nightstands. To fill in the newly bare patches, Patty discovers a tray forgotten under an inch of dust atop the fridge, as well as a few teapots and espresso cups I keep thinking I’ll use someday. A trip to the garage yields candlesticks and an old painting that matches the new bedspread.
“Some people have a good sense of design, but it’s hard to see it with a fresh pair of eyes if you’ve been living in it for a long time,” Patty says.
On to the family room: The cat’s gigantic scratching post-cum-condo and my husband’s faux Chinese fan get the heave-ho. Patty sweeps up cratefuls of trinkets and “conversation pieces” I’ve accumulated, strewn about, then forgotten over the years. She collects bits of art from around the house.
A “secretary” desk, formerly used as a makeshift door to the water heater’s alcove, replaces the cat condo. My old single-gal table goes in the center of room. Beneath it, we spread a rug discovered in the office, which in my house is where furniture goes to die.
As we work, Patty tells me about where she’ll be staging tomorrow: Jubilee Women’s Center, a transitional housing program for homeless women in Seattle. She and other local stagers are donating their time and talents for charity. “If you’re doing the hardest work of your life, you deserve a decent space … I think the notion that a total stranger would help you when you’ve been abandoned is very powerful. I hope that positive feeling lingers every time they walk in the room,” she says.
And, with that, we’re done. It took a mere three and a half hours. Except for a 3-inch piece of ribbon and two sprigs of silk flowers, everything we used came from my home.
“Your personal style is still there. The room is not submerged in your personal style, it’s not saturated with you, it’s just suggested,” Patty remarks.
My rooms, formerly so cluttered and unwelcoming, now feel so open, so calming. I, in turn, feel calm.
Day 17, later
My husband seems calm, too, when he inspects the rooms that are now devoid of the huge fan and so many wizard tomes.
“I didn’t miss them. I didn’t feel like anything was missing from this room,” he says. “It looks clean. Looks like everything is in its right place, without knowing why — it looks like everything belongs there. ... It makes me wonder how the rest of the house could look.”